The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended

Today marks the centenary of the Senghennydd mining disaster, the worst ever in the UK, that claimed the lives of 440 men and boys. It was commemorated with various events in Senghennydd including the unveiling of a statue remembering all who died in Welsh mining accidents. Idrisyn headstone

Many who died at Senghennydd in 1913 had travelled there from other parts of Wales, but you wouldn’t have known that from reading this morning’s Wasting Mule, which did a panel piece on someone who’d moved from West Sussex! Doesn’t the Mule realise that the whole point of a Welsh newspaper is to cover Welsh news, and other news from a Welsh angle? Senghennydd provided an opportunity for the Mule to live up to its claim to be the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’ by bringing together the various parts of the country; but no, the Mule, as ever, had to look at Wales from an English perspective.

I mention this because I was fortunate enough to take part in a little ceremony of remembrance myself on Saturday. Due to my wife and her sister being collateral descendants of Edward Jones Humphreys of Abergynolwyn who, by the time he died at Senghennydd – and by a route the ladies have yet to establish – was universally known as ‘Idrisyn’. When the local quarry closed he made his way south with his brother (wife’s taid), and their sister, who was there with her husband. (Click to enlarge image.)

The fact is that Wstatueales in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries experienced considerable internal migration which, for whatever reason, is often neglected. Too many prefer to concentrate – a la Mule – on migration into or out of Wales. Of my eight great-grandparents four came up to Swansea from the west, Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire, places like Meidrim and New Quay. Most of those who came to work in the local Bryneglwys quarry here in south Meirionnydd came from Montgomeryshire, Caernarfonshire or further afield.

Returning to Senghennydd, I cannot avoid saying that I am disappointed with the statue. (Click to enlarge.) Isn’t it a bit, well, unimaginative? Crass, even? And another thing, the two portrayed are obviously survivors of some tragedy or other, so how do they commemorate the dead? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a statue commemorating the dead has to be composed of corpses, but this statue looks like the kind of ‘heroic’ and inspiring public art that could be found in every shit-hole town in the Urals circa 1965. It’s almost a caricature of communist propaganda statuary. In profile, the miner holding the lamp even has a passing resemblance to Lenin!

Surely the obvious inspiration for any statue commemorating the dead of Welsh mining disasters is that iconic image of the young girl, with the baby wrapped in a traditional shawl, shielding her eyes and looking into the distance. (Click to enlarge.) For these countless disasters may have taken the lives of thousands of mother shawlmen and boys, but once dead they were – as my mamgu would say – ‘out of it’. The real suffering then was that of those who remained, the widows and orphans, so perfectly characterised by that sublime image. And, yes, it is also a memorial to the dead, for doesn’t she represent countless thousands of women and girls looking, waiting, for husbands, fathers, brothers who are never going to return?

So why did the chosen statue have to be so in-yer-face? Did those who made the decision fear that visitors would be bewildered if confronted by anything needing a little thought and reflection? Isn’t that the whole point of art? Even public art?

A lot of sincere people in Senghennydd and the surrounding area have done a wonderful job of giving us another genuinely national institution. Making us all remember an important date in Welsh history, from a time and place that now seem so distant. They should all be proud of what they’ve done. Unfortunately . . . the centre-piece, the statue-memorial, was not an inspired choice. I’m sorry, folks, it was the wrong choice.

17 thoughts on “The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended

  1. Not a comment for this post. Just something to think about,maybe?

    Quickly switched over to the england match the other night in the ingrained hope to see them losing. After turning back to what I was watching , it dawned on me that what Wales really wants is for them to qualify, so as the games begin all those smug bastards who wave their shitty little flags of st George will come out on the streets of Wales and awake the national identity in those who get annoyed by the smug shits. I tend to think that China’s cheap and cheerful flags have had more effect on awakening national identity than all the rubbish that comes out of Plaid.

  2. Brychan

    There is another statue of note. It stands in Aberdare Park, that of Lord William Lewis, the owner of the Universal Colliery at Senghenydd. He was elevated by the Queen of England to be the 1st Baronet of Merthyr. The title carries numerous offspring, one Major William Brereton Couchman Lewis who diverted his lordships activities into the third sector in later years as treasurer of the RSPCA. A later generation, Robin Lewis, is of course, holder of the title of Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed. Our original Lord, William was three months late in adhering to requirements of the Mines Inspectorate in 1913, negligence which resulted in the explosion. I am at a loss to explain why RCT council maintain the statute of this coal owner in Aberdare park. Perhaps they consider the fine amounting to the princely sum of £10 for the deaths of the 439 men and boys, as suitable recompense?

    1. Jac

      An interesting point. Which may say a lot about the Labour Party. Compared to parties and movements on the continent the Brit Labour Party has always been deferential to, and a pillar of – rather than a threat to – the established order. All the fiery rhetoric was basically piss and wind. One General Strike in 1926 was about the only time that the English establishment feared the Labour Party and its trade unions stooges had forgotten their lines. And talking of peerages, just think Kinnock, George Thomas and all the other slimy self-serving fuckers.

  3. Agree about the statue – it could have been brilliant like the sculpture of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan at Llandovery. Agree about WAG and Western Mail – both poor. Only recently found out that the Vale of Glamorgan was denuded of farm labourers when coal/steel exploded – they went to the Valleys and were replaced by men from the West Country. On another note, why doesn’t the Welsh Language Society rename itself the British Language Society and get into bed with Cornish/Breton/Galician societies. People in Ingerlund might then understand that the language they have killed via in-migration was original to these Isles. Also what is the point of ‘Welsh, Not British’ T-shirts? Why call ourselves ‘foreign’ – Walsci to the Saxon? Surely we should have ‘Original British’ branding or somesuch? Why doesn’t the WLS try to get rid of Wales/Welsh and replace with Cymru/Cymraeg etc.? Why isn’t the WAG called the British Assembly Government, or even better the British Government? Hwyl

  4. leigh richards

    local school children forming the numbers who perished 100 years ago was i think by far the most fitting and poignant tribute of today’s moving events. i dont have any strong feelings over the statue, other than to say it will always be difficult to settle on somethng everyone could agree on….sadly of course we in wales have an all too long history of commemorating such – unnatural – disasters, and doubtless if one of the ginormous wind turbines the british department of energy wants to plonk in powys should topple over and squash some poor passers by there’ll be a fitting choir led hymn filled tribute, with bbc wales despatching its entire news department to mid wales to cover the sombre occassion

    so i hope that the abiding thing that will come out of today’s events is that it wil serve as a remnder to people in wales of the enormous sacrifices made by welsh communities in order to meet the greedy demands of the british state…..the history of industrial wales is sadly littered with such avoidable disasters, and this terrible event…and the equally appalling aberfan disaster….serve as probably the worst examples of welsh lives needlessly sacrificed on the bloody altar of british demands (you could of course quite reasonably throw the willful drowning of welsh villages into this odious mix too )

    and of course when the british state no longer needed welsh coal, and steel, it had no compunction in condemning tens of thousands to unemployment and entire welsh communities to years of long term decline and poverty……viewed in this stark context its difficult to see how anyone in their right mind could even think that the political ‘union’ that is the british state has been and is a good thing for wales… lets hope todays laudible tribute will make people in wales question our nation’s historically exploitative relationship with the british state and fuel demands (if you’ll pardon the pun) among people in wales to take control of their own country and of its natural resources… surely its not too much to ask for the welsh people to decide how energy is produced in their own country?

  5. anonymouse

    The children of Alys Rhonwen, or Alice Rowena, supposedly the daughter of the Saxon invader Hengist, so meaning the English. The children of Mari or Mary, the Irish, refering to their Roman Catholicism

    1. Jac

      If memory serves, she was the one with whom Gwrtheyrn became besotted. The bride-price was Kent, the land of Gwyrangon. The only part of England given up to the German invaders without a fight.

  6. daffy2012

    I’ve heard the term ‘Plant Mari’ but not ‘Plant Alys’. What are their origins? What do they mean?

  7. Anonymous

    As shown on S4C on Sunday the statute of woman and her baby did make the short list. I also agree that this would have been a fitting memorial

    1. Jac

      Yes, I also saw the S4C prog. The thing about this is that it can’t be changed like a pair of socks, Senghennydd, and Wales, is now lumbered with this dull and so ‘predictable’ statue, which will never become iconic or loved. More, this is a national memorial, using a chunk of Welsh Government and other funding, so maybe the consultation should have been wider than just the local community.

  8. daffy2012

    I watched the s4c programme last night and there were some men from Trawsfynydd. Were they the same as your wife’s family?

    You talk of people moving from Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Some people I’ve been looking at moved from North Pembrokeshire. For some reason, many of them ended up in Aberdar. Not sure why would that be. One was a young man from Crymych who then went on to become the principal of Bala-Bangor college.

    There’s another minister from Carmerthenshire who ended up in Aberdar and then left for Patagonia, taking a number of his congregation with him.

    I also had family who moved to Aberdar, Troed-y-rhiw (Merthyr), The Rhondda and the Neath valley.

    But you are right, you will often hear some say that the valleys aren’t Welsh because they took in people from outside of Wales. Of course, they have an anti-Welsh agenda.

    1. Jac

      The ones I’m dealing with, Idrisyn and his brother and sister, all came from Abergynolwyn. No relation to those from Traws.

      You’re right about there being an anti-Welsh agenda behind promoting the idea that most people in the Valleys are English. It comes from the same ‘school’ that propagates the view there was no Wales until the Industrial Revolution.

    2. El

      The Brit Left in Wales has always promoted the false narrative that most people in the Valleys are of English descent. It’s pure bollocks promoted by the descendants of the ‘Plant Mari’ and ‘Plant Alys’ to keep us Welsh in our place.

      Up until the 1890s the overwhelming majority of immigrants to the central/western valleys were Welsh, mostly from rural Welsh counties and existing industrial centres such as Swansea and Merthyr. I’d also wager that English economic migrants of the early 20th century were amongst the first people to leave during the 1920s. Cardiff/Newport and some of the Gwent valleys are different story but even in Kaaaadiff there were a roughly equal numbers of Welsh, Irish and English.

      1. Jac

        ‘Plant Mari’, God I haven’t heard that term for many years. Though it was used widely when I used to spend weekends in the Lamb, in Merthyr, back in the late ’60s. In that town there used to be a really bitter Welsh / Irish split.

        But of course, those you’re talking about, the descendants of the ‘Plant Mari’ and ‘Plant Alys’ went on to form the Labour Party in the Valleys, to fight the ‘Welsh’ Liberal Party, with its chapels, and Welsh language, ‘holding us back’ from the sunlit uplands of socialism and, of course, anglicisation.

        And talking of the Labour Party . . . this whole thing with the statue in Senghennydd has ‘Labour Party’ running through it like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. The funding, the limited voting procedure, the communist iconography, it’s all so familiar.

        1. Jac

          What’s often ignored is that many of the English immigrants were single men. Due to the nature of the local industries, and the fatalities involved, there was a gender imbalance, which resulted in these English immigrants often marrying Welsh women. This aided their integration, meant the children were unquestionably Welsh, all of which aided the cohesiveness of Valley communities. A unity further consolidated by virtually all of them working in the same industry and being of the same class.

          Which exposes the bollocks talked by those who defend today’s colonisation of our rural areas by trying to use the industrial south over a hundred years ago as an example of large numbers of English moving in and being assimilated. In our rural areas today most of the immigrants are middle class, and would be insulted if you suggested they should ‘go native’. Furthermore, they are here in such numbers that in many areas it is the Welsh who are being assimilated.

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